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Blood cancer ride proves Perry’s toughest race

As Perry Judd slowly pedalled over the finishing line at the prestigious Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic in 2013, supposedly in the form of his life but somehow lagging far behind the competition, he knew something wasn’t right.

Physically exhausted, Perry feared he had glandular fever, but a blood test revealed something much more dangerous.

The then 37-year-old explained: “I had a call from the GP: ‘Please come and see me, we need to talk urgently. You need to come in right away’.

“I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. The shock is what hits you. One day I was looking forward to all sorts of normal things, and the next minute it’s all completely up in the air. You’re sitting in a hospital bed wondering what does this all mean for me.”

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It is characterised by an over production of immature white blood cells, which crowd the bone marrow and disrupt the creation of normal blood cells. Each year in Australia about 1330 people are diagnosed with AML, mainly men aged over 60.

Perry’s genetic tests revealed his blood cancer was very dangerous to him, and he would need immediate high-dose chemotherapy and eventually a stem cell transplant.

A stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant, repopulates bone marrow damaged by disease and treatment with healthy blood stem cells.

The father-of-two said: “It was definitely a journey for me to become aware of what it meant and what the likely treatment options would look like.

“The initial shock was pretty severe because not only did I have to cope with the fact I had leukaemia but it was the worst kind. I was in hospital for a good three months solid without even leaving the ward.

“My sense of control got less and less, but I still tried to hang on to it all the way through the journey. There is certainly a time where the balance shifts [to] just letting others support you and make decisions for you.

“Relinquishing some of that control was quite an important step for me. Partly it happened organically, by the fact I was so sick and so tired. But also, it’s a conscious decision to trust those around you that know and can see how you’re feeling, and how you’re dealing with things or sometimes not dealing with things.”

Fortunately, doctors found a donor who was a full match for Perry’s destroyed stem cells: his brother.

Perry added: “Things started to be good news, on balance, rather than bad news. That included finding out my brother was a full match and that I was finally in remission.”

Planning for a future after cancer

After his transplant, Perry began to plan for a different future. He said: “The rest of the journey was just a very, very slow-burn recovery. Once I was home, it was about spending time with family again.

“I would have routines like walking my kids to school every day and trying to just spend time with friends and family.

“I did spend a lot of time on the couch, and I actually went out and upgraded my stereo system and got a little bit selfish!

“You start to think about the things in life that I really get pleasure from and you tend to try to gravitate towards those to make up for some of the lost time.

“You can’t underestimate enough how important it is to have your friends and family around you, and to be grateful for the fact you’ve got them.”

Returning to work after cancer

Physiotherapist Perry was off work for two years during his treatment and recovery, rebuilding his strength to rejoin the workforce in a part time capacity.

Perry, a keen cyclist who went on to compete in the 24th World Transplant Games in Perth, said: “I had to build myself up very slowly in terms of energy levels and routines. The mental fog and fatigue you get from going through something like this is easy to underestimate. I don’t think I could concentrate properly for quite a long time.

“I was lucky enough that I had superannuation income protection that would cover me for the two years that I was off, as well as whatever the balance of my role would be when I returned.

“I started out two days a week, and, ironically, I got a role on a project at the Royal Brisbane Hospital in the physio department where I could look out the window and see [my] old room in the cancer care building!”

Cancer-related fatigue affects more than half of everyone with blood cancer. If you’re battling exhaustion, try the Leukaemia Foundation’s new digital energy coach and discover ways to manage your cancer-related fatigue.

Sharing cancer advice

More than a decade on, Perry urges others diagnosed with blood cancer to “be gentle” on themselves.

He added: “Let it happen. Trust your team, trust your family and friends around you. Remember that it’s a journey and that journey has an end; once you’re out the other side and you’re looking back, you’ll realise it was a phase in your life.

“It doesn’t define me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about a lot of things, and I think I’ve come out the better for it. I wouldn’t necessarily wish to go through it again but it’s just one crazy random thing that happened.

“Accept it as part of the journey of being human. You don’t become a leukaemia victim, you are you, and leukaemia is something that happened to you at some point in your life. And that’s how I feel about it.”

Perry shares much more about his diagnosis, treatment, stem cell transplant and road to recovery on our popular Talking Blood Cancer podcast. Stream and subscribe now on your favourite podcast service.

Last updated on April 30th, 2024

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.